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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU has little trouble with PSU


COUGARS

We about ready to head back to Spokane, but before we leave beautiful Kennewick, we have the unedited version of our game story on the link. Read on.
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• Here's the gamer ...

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KENNEWICK – The high ball screen has become a key element in college basketball. An inside player steps out to the perimeter, a guard dribbles toward the pick and the defense must make a decision.

Step out and help. Switch. Double team. Options abound, but the right one can make the difference between winning and losing.

Such was the case Saturday night at Kennewick's Toyota Arena, site of the Cougars second consecutive off-campus home game.

Washington State University made the right decisions, executed on both ends of the court and ran away from Portland State, 93-69, before 6,286 surprisingly loud WSU supporters and behind a school-record 13-of-16 (81.8 percent) beyond the arc.

"I was wide open for most of my shots," said Nik Koprivica, who scored a career-high 23 points on a perfect night: 6 for 6 from the floor and free-throw line, 5 of 5 beyond the arc. "Guys were just finding me, I was just spotting (up) and it just happened that I knocked them down."

Koprivica and the player he backs up, starting power forward Abe Lodwick, took advantage of Portland State's inability to guard the high ball screen.

Lodwick hit 5 of 6 shots, including three 3-pointers without a miss, en route to a career-high 13 points.

When either wing Klay Thompson, who started slowly, not scoring in the game's first 16 minutes, 28 seconds, but finished with 23 points, or point guard Reggie Moore came off the high ball screen, usually both Vikings went with the ball, leaving the screener open.

"We tried to screen and relocate and see if the guy had an open look," said WSU coach Ken Bone, who spent the past four years on the PSU bench, with current Viking head coach Tyler Geving sitting next to him. "Tonight it was there.

"We shared the ball extremely well ... (and) we had open looks."

Making the extra pass when needed, the Cougars shot 63.5 percent from the floor, with assists on 25 of their 33 baskets. As usual, it was Moore setting the tone, setting a career high in assists (12) for the second consecutive game.

"I thought we would be able to contain Reggie Moore, and we didn't" Gevin said of WSU's freshman. "I mean, he dominated the game. He was 1-for-4 (shooting) and scored four points, but he dominated."

The same could be said of the WSU defense. And, again, it was how the Cougars handled the high ball screen that made the difference.

Instead of trying to fight through or double, WSU switched, changing defenders every time Portland State (5-6) set an on-ball screen.

"Their game is predicated on hitting 3s," Bone explained. "The priority for us in the half court was to stop them from getting good looks from the arc."

It worked.

The Vikings, using the system Bone is trying to implement in Pullman, came in shooting 43 percent behind the arc and 51 percent overall. Forced out of their comfort zone, they finished at 33.3 and 43.5 percent respectively. With PSU missing so many shots, rebounders were plentiful, and DeAngelo Casto grabbed 12 of them as WSU had a 36-26 edge.

"Their length bothered us," Geving said. "They're big, so it's tough to get shots off over those guys. They switched and all of a sudden (the 6-foot-8) Casto is on one of our guards and that makes it tough."

One of those guards, 6-1 Dominic Waters, seemed to be able to handle the WSU pressure, hitting half of his 14 shots and scoring a team-high 19 points.

But PSU's answer to the Cougars' scheme was to shove the ball inside and it worked to an extent, with bigs Julius Thomas and Jamie Jones combining for 20 points, hitting 10 of 16 shots. However, that's not how PSU has shot its way into the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons.

"It didn't work perfect, they still hit some 3s," Bone said of WSU's defense. "But it worked pretty well. What we gave up, obviously ... was isolating our guards with their bigs and their bigs did a nice job."

Portland State, despite struggling from the outside, actually led 24-22 with just less than 6 minutes remaining in the first half, but the Cougars closed with a 22-9 run. In the stretch, seven WSU players scored, led by Thompson's eight.

When the Cougars opened the second half with four points in a minute, Bone's new team had secured a win over his old one. The Vikings would get no closer than 12 the rest of the way.

"It seemed a little awkward right at the beginning," said Bone, who admitted taking some pride when one of his old players made a good play. "Just seeing those guys warm up it's like, 'damn those are my guys. No, those aren't my guys. My guys are down there.' "

On this night, his guys were the ones making the shots.

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• That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning with some more thoughts and notes. Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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